Mindfulness, as a technique, has provided many lessons to a lot of people. In fact, the rewards from practising this seemingly simple technique has born an amazing crop of lifelong benefits to me. Among the most powerful insights are:
- Greater focus
- Clear awareness
- Longer lasting presence
- Deeper insight
However, it is the less directly beneficial rewards that I have find to be the most satisfying and indeed most life changing.
In Buddhist psychology, mindfulness is part of a pantheon of techniques that are designed to bring around self-realisation and around each technique are structures of understanding from what each technique will bring about insight into the world around us. It is this aspect that I find most intriguing and most profound.
Mindfulness has brought about many positive effects to me as an individual and it is also brought about many insights into how me, as an individual, sees the world that I occupy. When I first took up the practice of mindfulness my sole intention was to bring about relief from suffering. As has been stated many times in previous blog posts, I suffered from an emotional breakdown in 2013 and the picking up of the mindfulness baton was in desperate attempt to find peace from the physical and emotional sensations of that trauma. I am pleased to say that the technique, in that narrow request, has served me well and has brought about not only peace in that moment, it has also provided a methodology that will be picked up as and when needed in the future.
The real power in mindfulness however, is in quiet times when trauma is not present. Mindfulness, it’s not simply a self-help triage. No, it is part of a toolbox of insight techniques that can assist you to realise your full human potential. However, in order to achieve that outcome, you need to bring into play the whole of who you are and more importantly who you think you are!
For instance, you are a human being who lives in a town, in a country, on a continent that is on a planet and this planet floats around in something called the universe. All of this is subject to laws that are out of your control. Now you have expanded your perspective out to the vastness of the universe and the lack of control, slowly draw the principles of “no control” back in towards yourself. You may find that at some point the feeling of lack of control starts to solidify into a notion that you are actually in control of everything, which includes your destiny, the way you think and the way the world responds to you. “You“ become the centre of the universe. Now while your mind, and perhaps more fundamentally the notion of self (ego) becomes prominent, the deepening awareness of mindfulness slowly starts to dissolve any pre-conceived and thought based ideas that circle around your sense of identity. You, that has become the centre of the universe starts to fall back into that which is around you. What was once “true“ now becomes challenged and questioned and a new understanding start to evolve. It is in the changing of my preconceived ideas, where mindfulness becomes really powerful and I find the subtlety of gentle observation to be one of the most profound effects of mindful enquiry.
In Buddhist psychology, change is referred to as “impermanence“. Impermanence, also called Anicca or Anitya and it is one of the essential doctrines and part of three marks of existence in Buddhism. The concept asserts that all of conditioned existence is “transient, evanescent, inconstant”. In other words, subject to change. For me it is something that has become one of the main cornerstones of my own personal practice as part of my own personal journey has been around the search for attaining an “ideal”. The ideal that I have sought manifests in a need to build around me situations and goals that provide comfort and peace. This could take the form of wanting perfect relationships, fun jobs and interesting hobbies, all of which I feel I need to be present in my life but also permanent, satisfying and never changing. My life and my needs had no place for impermanence.
That has all changed through the practice of mindfulness. I have found through observing the arising and passing of phenomena that impermanence is woven into the very fabric of my existence, in fact it is part of all of our journeys. Life is something you are part of it and while you may “think“ that you are in control of it, in reality you are merely part of it is unfolding. As the Buddha said twenty-one hundred years ago, “All conditioned things are ‘impermanent’ — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.” Dhammapada, verse 277.“ and it is as true now as it was then.
Impermanence, in the very idea that it is something that will pass, raises up a somewhat scary notion, the fear of change. The idea of impermanence is interwoven into the Buddha’s four Noble truths, the first of which is the idea that “there is suffering in the world“. As humans we have hardwired within us an autonomic nervous system that is designed to protect us from danger and as such whenever we “fear“ something we respond with an automatic response, be it fight, flight or freeze. The Buddha observed, all that time ago, that it was our reactions to perceived unpleasant (and pleasant) situations that often caused us to suffer. It was not the situation itself but rather the reaction to that situation that caused us the most discomfort. However, insight into what scares is not enough for us to change our viewpoint of that situation, and there needed to be additional insights to help us move forward and accept what we see, in the moment and with the greatest clarity. Impermanence is one such vantage point.
Impermanence can induce fear because it highlights uncertainty but also it can also pull you away, via a change, from what you “see“ as being what you want, but what might not be the best thing for you. We have often built emotions around what makes us comfortable and therefore any change means that the “perceived” comfort may disappear. Change therefore becomes something that is not good and perhaps not wanted. However, change is inevitable, we can’t control it, stop it and it sometimes in reality it isn’t actually bad. What mindfulness provides is another perspective and insight shows what is really happening in the moment. Every moment.
If mindfulness is the observation of the world from the top of the highest mountain, impermanence is the changing of the seasons.
Now, rather than seeing impermanence as a precarious ledge at the top of the mountain of awareness, I see it as a vantage point from which to observe the beautiful unfolding nature of the world around me. The anticipation of change no longer has me in its grasp, a hold that induces fear. No, it is a place of excitement and potential. As a result, it provides an opportunity to see what change may hold for me and not just me but those around me. Impermanence is hopeful possibility and not a fear inducing certainty.
Where am I now? Currently, I sit upon the mountain top looking at the changing landscape, bathed in a warm glow of some present moment awareness. However, I accept that storm clouds can still roll in and the sun is planning to set at some point in the evening, but it might not for me. However, around all of it, is a deep and exciting understanding that this moment will pass and something new will arise. What that will be who knows, but being “there” for it all I now realise that whatever it may be there is an opportunity to learn and grow from it.
The irony of it all is that impermanence may well and truly be here to stay … Or it’s it?